The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University recently provided a heritage tour for the Williamson family reunion. The 10 Williamsons grew up on the Sunflower Plantation in Sunflower County, the children of Audra and Ollice. Since the death of their parents in 1981 and 1982, they have gathered each summer in a central location to honor the memory of their parents.
This year they decided to host the reunion in Cleveland so they could visit the old home place. The tour, led by Lee Aylward of The Delta Center, included visits to Dockery Farms, the birthplace of Delta Blues and Po Monkey’s Lounge, one of the last remaining rural juke joints. They also visited old cemeteries to teach the younger ones about their heritage. The family also enjoyed Sunday morning worship at the church they grew up attending.
In addition to visiting these heritage sites, the Williamsons dined in local restaurants and stayed at hotels in Cleveland. These activities yielded economic infusion into the Cleveland community.
“Family reunions and town homecomings are a salient feature of Mississippi Delta culture,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “During the 20th Century, thousands of people – black and white – moved out the Delta to Northern cities like Chicago and Detroit, seeking economic opportunity, a more tolerant racial climate, and better quality of life overall. The groups of families and community members that moved still consider the Delta home, and they return here at least once a year.
“These reunions and homecomings are an important part of cultural heritage tourism activity in our Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. They bring visitor expenditure – shopping, dining out, lodging – which is beneficial to our economy, and they promote our Heritage Area as a family friendly, educational destination.”
The Williamson reunion attracted family members from seven states. There are 108 immediate descendants, 99 still living as well as 22 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren, with one on the way.
The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the NEH’s “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.
The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at http://www.msdeltaheritage.com.